It starts with spicy boiled crawfish, the pride of Louisiana, but it was born elsewhere.
It adds a dose of adaptation from the Vietnamese-American immigrant story and the next generation’s mash-up minded sense of possibility. It arrives in bowls and trays with its red shells gleaming with butter and paved with bits of garlic. It pairs well with cold beer or anything bubbly.
It is variously called Vietnamese crawfish or Viet-Cajun crawfish. It’s a style that first took root in Vietnamese communities in Houston and other cities. Now, it is finally boomeranging back to the crawfish heartland of Louisiana.
I’ve been tracking the stuff down lately, and I’ve found a mix of new arrivals and a handful of spots working it into their routine.
Early attempts to introduce the technique around New Orleans brought some derision. The finished product looks different, and it usually costs significantly more per pound. You also tend to eat less of it – the butter is more filling. Think of New Orleans BBQ shrimp compared to regular boiled shrimp and you’re on the right track.
But the style has been getting more attention nationally, and that’s been priming local appetites, or at least curiosities.
What’s been interesting about exploring the style in New Orleans is to see the different ways people do it.
In Gretna, Big EZ Seafood has something called Cali style, with a citrusy, sweet, spicy mix of flavors. Upriver a bit in Harvey, MiMi Crawfish uses roasted garlic, for a mellower flavor. Across the river on Magazine Street, the brand spanking new Boil Seafood House has four different sauces to coat its crawfish. Meanwhile, C&A Seafood in Gert Town adds just a subtle spiced garlic butter finish, and more if you ask.
There are even some weekly specials and pop-ups turning up to test the waters for Viet-Cajun crawfish.
The truth is it’s probably not for everyone. But any one who loves crawfish knows there’s no single way to cook them, and that different style will always turn heads toward the tails.
Big EZ Seafood
1632 Lafayette St., Gretna, 504-272-0711
Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Boil Seafood House
3340 Magazine St., 504-309-4532
Dinner daily (from 3 p.m.), lunch Fri.-Sun. (from 11 a.m.)
C & A Seafood
1429 S. Jeff Davis Parkway, New Orleans, 504-822-8497
Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-8 p.m. (til 8:30 p.m. Fri. and Sat.)
MiMi Seafood & Banh Mi
932 Westbank Expy., Gretna, 504-518-6921
Tue.-Sun. 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Mr. Crabhouse Seafood
2245 Manhattan Blvd., Harvey, 504-324-6992
Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-8 p.m